Free China: The Courage to Believe (2013)


(Originally published in The Village Voice and LA Weekly)

Free China: The Courage to Believe delivers a powerful, if at times heavy-handed, warning: The systematic and state-sanctioned persecution of peaceful citizens is alive and well in China. The hourlong, talking-head documentary tells the story of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice combining Buddhism and Daoism, which took China by storm in the mid-1990s. With 70 million Chinese practitioners, rivaling the number of Chinese Communist Party members, Falun Gong came to be viewed as a threat by the Communist Party regime; it was outlawed in 1999. The state began arresting Falun Gong practitioners who refused to quit or denounce their views, interning many in forced labor camps where the prisoners faced torture and, shockingly, the harvesting of their organs for transplants. Free China puts two courageous and articulate faces to the crisis: Dr. Charles Lee, who returned to his native China from the United States to help the Falun Gong cause and spent three years in a labor camp; and Jennifer Zeng, a mother, former Communist Party member and Falun Gong practitioner, who wrote a bestselling book, Witnessing History, about her year in a labor camp. Frustratingly, the film says little about the specifics of Falun Gong– from the footage here, it resembles tai chi–so a few minutes of research before viewing may be in order to fully appreciate what Zeng and Lee are fighting for. But Free China, with its aggressive narration, haunting music and disturbing photographic evidence of crimes against humanity, wants you to walk away outraged at the injustice of it all, and most likely, you will.

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